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Q & A with Christy O’Connor

The 1999 winner of the Foremost Insurance Classic spoke recently with MG Contributing Editor Tom Cleary.

Michigan Golfer: So often when professionals win golf tournaments they talk about the notion that it was simply their time to win. Did you have that feeling last year in Grand Rapids?

Christy O’Connor, Jr.: I don’t think I’ve ever had that feeling, actually...though I do think it would be nice to know! I think you go in there feeling a little bit better some weeks. You like the area, you like the golf course, the surrounding area, and I think you just get settled in and you get a really good feel for the place. That’s certainly halfway to doing well.

MG: Traveling and staying in hotels can get very difficult when you’re on Tour. How was it that you came to hook up with Dick Hurst (then club president at Egypt Valley, where O’Connor won last August) and his family last year in Grand Rapids?

CO: It’s a lovely story, actually. I was introduced to him by the golf director (Lynn Janson) and Dick invited me to stay at his home. Normally I don’t do that; I kind of prefer to stay on my own. But I went back there and met his lovely wife, Mary Ann, and they gave the basement of the house, which left me alone pretty much. I had a great time. I ended up being friends with their granddaughters and going out to the little local places to eat. It was just really kind of a home setting.

MG: Was that a little bit of a throwback to your early days of touring?

CO: Not really. The only place where we used to do that regularly was on the African Tour, where there weren’t very many hotels. I quite like to have my own time; talking golf after playing the game is a bit too much for me, so I like to relax from the game and just talk about the daily things. And I think when you’re with a family thats generally what you do.

MG: Prior to last year, the last time you were really in our consciousness here in America was during the 1989 Ryder Cup matches. What was your life like between that time and last season?

CO: I was always hoping then to keep my hand in the game and I was pretty diversified in that I started doing a lot of design work, which I really love. I’ve built 22 golf courses, and my general feeling was to keep my golf game in good shape up until I became 50.

MG: Going back to the ’89 Ryder Cup, what exactly happened that day when you played Fred Couples (whom O’Connor defeated 1-up by winning the final hole) and had the now-famous conversation with (European Ryder Cup captain) Tony Jacklin?

CO: Yes, it was a tough match and the Ryder Cup is a very tough competition no matter who’s playing. Fred was #1 in the world at the time, and I suppose everyone would think he hits the ball so far that I wouldn’t have much chance against him. But if you’re in the top 12 in Europe or any continent you’d have to be playing some kind of golf, and I had a pretty good belief in my game. We came to the 18th hole all square, and he hit a massive drive, probably 350 yards. After my drive, I had a 2-iron shot off a wonderful lie, and that’s when Jacklin came over and said, “One more swing for Ireland. You get anywhere on the green and you’re going to put huge pressure on him.” And I put my shot on the green to 2-1/2 feet, and I think that really rattled him.

MG: Your family is very prominent in Irish golf circles. How big of an advantage was that to you when you began playing?

CO: Well, my uncle (Christy O’Connor Sr.) was one of the top players in the world for many years. He won 48 tournaments worldwide, and up until a few years ago held the record for playing in 10 consecutive Ryder Cups without missing one. Where I came from was a very big golfing community. Everybody played, all my pals. I lived right on the Galway Golf Club, just up the road from the first hole and that’s all we did.

MG: People have always known the name connection you have with your uncle. Would it have been harder for you to have the career you’ve had if he’d been your father, instead of your uncle?

CO: No, I don’t believe so. It was very, very tough actually because everybody would say Great shot, but never as good as your uncle. Or if I’d leave a three-iron short of the pin they’d always say, Christy Senior would’ve hit that one just past the hole. I just had to get out of that. I decided to leave him alone and I just went my way.

MG: How do you feel about your own game this year?

CO: My putting has not been as good at all as it was last year. It’s starting to get better. Right now it’s where I’ll actually gel if I putt good on these golf courses, which you have to if you want to get into contention. I’ve had a few chances, but nothing serious this year.

MG: Do you feel confident about Grand Rapids, knowing how well you negotiated that course last year?

CO: I love the golf course: the set-up, the trees, just the general way it sets up. I’ll be really practicing hard, you always want to put in a little bit of extra time coming into a tournament where you’ve won. So hopefully when I get to Egypt Valley, my game will be in really good shape.

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